No surprises in Game 1 as Heat cruise to win over Celtics

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The first game of the Eastern Conference Finals went largely as expected. With LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combining for 54 points, and with the Celtics offense being wildly inconsistent, Miami cruised to a 93-79 victory that seemed to see Boston’s worst fears in facing the Heat in this series become reality.

James got going early, outscoring the Celtics by himself in the first period 13-11, while helping his team get out to a 10-point lead after one. Boston climbed back into it in the second by getting balanced scoring from its stars against the Heat’s second unit, with Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen combining for 28 of their team’s 35 points in the period.

Unfortunately for Boston, that offensive performance was short-lived, and a complete aberration.

Pierce finished with just 12 points on 5-of-18 shooting; the responsibility of checking James on the defensive end for most of the night clearly took its toll. Allen played more than 38 minutes, but he managed just 1-of-7 shooting, and even more uncharacteristically, missed four of his seven free throw attempts; he’s definitely not right, and the ankle injury is obviously crushing his normally stellar ability to rain down shots at an extremely high percentage.

Garnett was the Celtics best and most consistent offensive player, finishing with 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting. But that’s also telling of Boston’s offensive woes, because when your strongest offensive option is your power forward knocking down long jumpers, it means that nothing is coming easy.

Setting aside Boston’s problems offensively for a moment — which may very well continue for the majority of this series — the team did have some measure of success in two areas. The Celtics limited the Heat’s opportunities in transition, and held Miami to just 10 fast break points. And, the Heat missed 20 of their 25 three-point attempts.

Boston went to a zone defense late, with the game essentially already having been decided. It was successful, and Doc Rivers said afterward that we can expect to see more of it as the series progresses. If Boston can keep Miami from getting into the lane and out in transition, then defensively, the Celtics have a shot to keep the games from getting out of hand and give themselves a fighting chance.

But the reality is that there were times in this game that Boston simply looked gassed defensively. And with the Celtics having no answer to slow James and Wade with individual defenders or with their team defensive schemes, unless they can create some better looks for Allen and Pierce — neither of whom appear to be playing at 100 percent health-wise — this figures to be a very short series, and one that will end in an inevitable return trip to the Finals for the Heat.

Report: Lakers feel they got played in Kawhi Leonard pursuit

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The Raptors reportedly felt Kawhi Leonard‘s advisor and uncle, Dennis Robertson, made unreasonable requests of them before Leonard signed with the Clippers.

The Lakers, the other team that waited for and missed out on Leonard, also apparently has misgivings about the process.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

I’ve heard complaints in the days after the signing. I heard complaints from the Lakers that they got played. I heard complaints from the Raptors that Kawhi came in and asked for the sun, the moon, the stars then left them at the altar.

The implication: Leonard knew all along wasn’t signing with the Lakers, waited a week into free agency so other top free agents would commit elsewhere then announced his decision just to sabotage the Lakers.

I don’t think Leonard did that. That’d be so calculating and sinister.

But I don’t know. We really don’t have much insight into how the famously secretive Leonard operates. I can’t rule it out.

Also, if Leonard did execute a devious plan to spite the Lakers, it’d look a lot like his actual free agency went.

Of course, nobody forced the Lakers to wait a week for Leonard. There had been longstanding reports Leonard didn’t want to play with LeBron James. The Lakers could have followed the Knicks model of dropping the Leonard pursuit to sign other players.

This is the calculus small-market teams must do frequently. They often bow out of star races, lacking confidence about succeeding.

The Lakers (often incorrectly) believe they can get anyone.

In this case, they were correct to chase Leonard until the end. He’s that big of a prize. Leonard is arguably the NBA’s best player. He can transform any franchise. The Lakers could also offer Leonard his desired Southern California locale and an opportunity to inform an incredible top trio with LeBron and Anthony Davis. For better or worse, that differentiated the Lakers from the Clippers.

The plan just didn’t work. Getting to the Clippers was clearly Leonard’s priority. He convinced George to join him, even moving a meeting with the Lakers so he could meet nearby with George unseen. That probably adds to the Lakers’ suspicion.

I don’t mind the Lakers venting. It must have been frustrating to miss out on Leonard.

Most importantly, they took care of business in the aftermath. The Lakers signed some good role players, chiefly Danny Green.

Their roster would likely look better now if they never pursued Leonard. But that opportunity cost was absolutely worth the potential upside of landing Leonard.

Report: Celtics complained about 76ers tampering with Al Horford

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Kyrie Irving was thinking about leaving the Celtics in December, according to Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie. Rumors of Irving leaving Boston had gotten so intense by February, he practically admitted he was open to leaving. Even Celtics president Danny Ainge said he got the impression by March or April that Irving could leave. By early June, it was apparent Irving wouldn’t re-sign. By mid June, it was clear he’d sign with Brooklyn. Irving announced July 1, the second day of free agency, he chose the Nets.

Al Horford‘s exit from Boston came more suddenly.

He declined a $30,123,015 player option that had to be exercised by June 18. The Celtics were on board with that, hoping to re-sign him to a long-term deal, presumably with a cheaper starting salary but more overall compensation. But the same day, a report emerged he’d leave Boston. Horford reportedly believed a four-year, $100 million contract awaited him in free agency. On the first day of free agency, he agreed to a four-year deal with the 76ers that guarantees $97 million and could be worth $109 million.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

The Celtics were, from what I am told, one of the teams that kind of stomped their feet about what they felt was tampering. Not with Kyrie, although that looked like it was lined up pretty far in advance. But with Horford. What happened with Horford – again, from what I am told – really upset the Celtics, that they were thinking they were going to be able to negotiate with him, talk to him about a new contract, and all of a sudden, it was like he already knew what his market was and was out of there.

The Celtics are hypocrites.

By June 26, Boston had become clear favorite to sign Kemba Walker. By June 29, he had reportedly told the Hornets he’d sign with the Celtics.

Again, free agency began June 30.

How does that happen without Boston tampering?

This is the game. Teams are generally clear to talk to players after the season, even though that’s technically against the rules. The Celtics cut the same corners as nearly everyone else. It’s ludicrous for Boston to complain about Horford’s departure, as if Walker didn’t arrive the same way.

The NBA hasn’t announced any fine for Philadelphia. But the league doesn’t announce all tampering violations.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver is correct: This system is broken. The league’s tampering rules are vague and arbitrarily enforced. The NBA should set realistic rules then enforce them fully.

Rumor: Marcus Morris left agent Rich Paul over backing out of Spurs deal to join Knicks

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Thes are the facts on the ground: Powerful agent Rich Paul negotiated a two-year, $20 million contract for Marcus Morris with the Spurs, and he verbally agreed to it. The Spurs made a series of moves to clear out the cap space to honor that agreement. However, by the time the moratorium ended and players could sign deals, Morris had started to move on and soon reached a new, one-year, $15 million contract with the Knicks. A few days later, Morris and Paul parted ways.

Now the rumors are starting to come in around how that went down.

The buzz at Summer League was Morris was disappointed with the market for his services, which he thought would be more robust. He took the Spurs offer that Paul set up, but when the Knicks came with $5 million more per year on a one-year deal — which makes Morris a free agent again in a much weaker class next summer — he wanted it. Paul, however, was not part of those talks and urged him to stick with the original Spurs deal, according to Marc Berman of New York Post.

Morris’ super-agent, Rich Paul, was not involved directly in Morris breaking his verbal agreement with the Spurs, according to a source, and the Knicks and Morris worked on a new deal together. The source reports Paul preferred Morris stick to his original agreement and the two are headed toward a breakup over the incident.

Morris’ move did not sit well with teams executives I spoke to at Summer League. Not because he backed out of a deal, that does happen (it’s not common, but it’s not unheard of), but because in this case the Spurs moved on from Davis Bertans and made roster moves to clear the cap space for Morris they would not otherwise have made.

Morris has made a bet on himself that there is a bigger, better contract for him next summer after he puts up numbers in New York (plus he gets $5 million more this season). We’ll see how that plays out.

Reports: Tristan Thompson will not play for Canada at World Cup; Rui Hachimura will play for Japan

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With national teams getting close to heading to training camp for the FIBA World Cup (which starts at the end of August), rosters are starting to shake out. For example, we know Anthony Davis will not play for Team USA, and Ben Simmons is out for Australia.

Now comes some more updates.

First, big man Tristan Thompson will not suit up for Canada, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Canada will still field a team made up almost entirely of NBA players. They should have a deep run in the World Cup.

Meanwhile, Wizards rookie Rui Hachimura will suit up for Japan, according to the Wizards official website.

Now, his attention turns to the 2019 FIBA World Cup, where Hachimura will lead the Japanese national team ahead of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

The FIBA World Cup tips off August 31 in China, and is not only the world championship but this time around also the primary qualifier for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Close to home, USA Basketball is scheduled to begin its pre-World Cup camp in Las Vegas Aug. 5, with an intrasquad exhibition game at the T-Mobile Arena on Aug. 9. Then the team heads to Southern California for more training followed by an exhibition against Spain on Aug. 16 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.